A Riverside Superior Court jury awarded a woman $2.28 billion Tuesday for the sexual abuse she endured for years committed by her stepfather, her attorney announced.
The 39-year-old Riverside woman, known in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, sued for damages against her stepfather, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and her mother, who she said knew about the sexual abuse but did nothing to protect her, according to a news release by the law firm of Gary Dordick.
The huge jury award of $836 million in damages and $1.44 billion in punitive damages is largely symbolic and unlikely ever to be fully paid, since the stepfather was the only remaining defendant in the suit. The church, which denied wrongdoing, settled its part of the lawsuit for $1 million in December, and the woman's mother settled for $200,000 in February, according to news reports.
The stepfather admitted to molestation and rape in a sworn deposition testimony but didn't appear at trial.
Doe was assaulted by her stepfather from the age of 5 until she was 14; it ended when he was arrested and convicted of felony lewd acts on a minor. The abuse occurred in their home and at the property of the Mormon church, in which both Doe's parents were active members.
According to the lawsuit, Doe attended Mormon Sunday school and other youth programs between 1987 and 1997. Her stepfather began using and manipulating church doctrines when Doe was around 5 years old to groom the child, according to the lawsuit.
During the time she was abused, Doe disclosed the abuse to multiple members of the Mormon church, including a bishop. Instead of notifying the police, the bishop gathered Doe, her mother and her stepfather into a joint meeting, speaking about repentance and instructing Doe to forgive her stepfather.
Doe then told another bishop about the abuse, but said that she was shamed into silence by the other bishop and other counselors, who said she would go to prison and harm her family by disclosing the crime.
Doe said that her mother knew that her stepfather was sexually abusing and grooming her but that her mother didn't do anything to protect her daughter and continued to share a home with him.
In 1997, Doe was in high school in Lake Elsinore and noticed her stepfather looking at her basketball teammates "in an inappropriate way," according to the lawsuit. Doe told her basketball coach about the sexual abuse and the coach reported it to a counselor. Doe's stepfather was arrested the same day.
He pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced on 55 counts, according to the lawsuit. The stepfather spent three years in prison, according to news reports. Her mother and members of the Mormon church were in the courtroom to support Doe's stepfather. Her mother remained married to him for two years after his conviction.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.